Although many brave young people have spoken up in the aftermath of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., to advocate for tighter gun regulations in the U.S., it’s words spoken by a man in his 40s that I keep coming back to.
On Ash Wednesday, Christian podcaster and author Mike McHargue (a.k.a. Science Mike) took to Facebook Live to share his thoughts on the matter. During the emotional, 20-minute stream, he said that he believes shootings like the one in Parkland stem from how North American culture views masculinity.
Gun violence, whether it be school shootings, suicide or other acts of violence, are overwhelmingly committed by men, he pointed out. He shared the harrowing story of how he attempted to commit suicide when he was younger, because of the isolation he felt from not fitting into the conventional mould of what a man is.
“I’ve held the barrel of a shotgun in my mouth and pulled the trigger,” said McHargue, who lives in Los Angeles. “Luckily, I don’t know enough about guns, or didn’t at that time in my life, to operate one successfully. But I did get to hear a ‘clink’ that resonated through my skull that I felt through my teeth. I got to taste metal and gunpowder, and, for a brief split second, I got to believe that I was dead.”
Although he never imagined taking the lives of others, as a teenager McHargue frequently fantasized about taking a gun onto a school campus and executing himself in front of other people. Loneliness, alienation and desperation are at the root of mass violence and suicide, he added.
In North American culture, being a man means being a powerful provider and strong protector who hides his emotions, he said. When men who have been conditioned to fulfill these roles are no longer able to do so, they feel lost, confused and lonely.
“We have trained generations of American men to solve their problems through domination and violence, and that’s exactly what lonely and estranged men are doing in America today,” he said.
In Canada, we don’t have the same level of gun violence that the United States experiences. At the same time, just as incidents like the Parkland shooting provide Americans with the opportunity to discuss, among other things, what healthy masculinity looks like, they provide Canadians with the same opportunity.
I was heartened when I read “A time of reckoning for men and masculinity,” the statement that Mennonite Men released last month. (See page 11 of this issue for a retitled, abridged version.) The statement recognizes that men have suffered for a long time under the burdens of patriarchal masculinity, denying and suppressing healthy emotions.
“We as men must . . . rise to embrace healthy masculinity,” the statement reads. “As men committed to our personal journeys of healing, we must join the critical work of dismantling oppressive systems and reconstructing ways of living that serve the well-being of all people.”
In his livestream on Ash Wednesday, McHargue offered his definition of what a man is: “A man is a powerful advocate. A man uses the strength of his voice and the height of his stance to stand up for others, to stand alongside those who need help and assistance finding their place in the world. And in doing so, a man finds the meaning to get up every day and be a member of society that doesn’t need to stand on top of others.
“A man is a strong partner, living in equality with someone else in his life—a man, woman or person of a non-binary gender identity—and a man is confident enough in his sexuality to be unconcerned with what society may think happens in his own home with his own partner.”
“[He is] honest about his feelings, his success and his failings,” McHargue continued. “He is vulnerable. He has the courage to admit when he is hurt, when he is fearful, when he is shamed, and in doing so invites others into intimate community, especially those closest to him. And a man is empathetic, because a man who is not afraid of his own feelings is not afraid of the feelings of other people.
“And finally, a man is an equal member in his household, whether that’s with a spouse, a domestic partnership, co-parenting arrangements. Even with his children, a man isn’t afraid to share in authority and decision-making.”
McHargue’s words echo those of scholar Jackson Katz in the 2015 documentary about masculinity, The Mask You Live In (available on Netflix).
“We have a responsibility to our sons to break down the systems of emotional constriction that lead so many men to have lives of quiet desperation and depression and alcohol and substance abuse, and all the other ways that men self-medicate,” Katz said.
“We need to redefine strength in men not as the power over other people, but as forces for justice. . . . We need more men who have the courage to stand up and speak out, even when it means taking a risk.”
Whether you are young or old, Canadian or American, those are words worth considering.
‘We have a responsibility to our sons to break down the systems of emotional constriction that lead so many men to have lives of quiet desperation and depression,’ says scholar Jackson Katz. (Photo by The Representation Project)
During a Facebook livestream on Ash Wednesday, podcaster and author Mike McHargue made an emotional plea for men to reconsider what masculinity looks like. (MikeMcHargue.com photo)
‘[A] man is empathetic, because a man who is not afraid of his own feelings is not afraid of the feelings of other people,’ says Mike McHargue. (Photo by The Representation Project)